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Jair Bolsonaro, the strident far-right candidate, has been elected President in Brazil’s presidential elections. His election signifies the most radical shift in Brazilian politics since the country transitioned from a dictatorship to a democracy over thirty years. Bolsonaro, a former military officer, had received 55.5% of the votes when 96% of the votes had been counted earlier this morning. His opponent, Fernando Haddad, an academic from the Workers Party (PT), had 44.4% of the ballots, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
Bolsonaro is known for his controversial views and divisive rhetoric. He has previously expressed his support for the former military dictatorship, said he would prefer his son to die than be gay and pledged to cleanse the country of leftist criminals. He has previously advocated torture and called for his critics to be shot.
On Sunday night, in a video broadcast shortly after the majority of the ballots had been counted, Bolsonaro said Brazil has everything its needs to become a great nation. He declared, “Our government will be formed by people that have the same purpose of everyone listening to me right now. The purpose of transforming our Brazil in a great, free and prosperous nation.” While he promised that his government would be a “defender of the Constitution, democracy and liberty,” he also stated that Brazil would “no longer be flirting with socialism, communism, populism and extremism on the left.”
The video was broadcast as a Facebook Live due to security concerns after Bolsonaro was stabbed at a campaign rally in early September. Many of his supporters, however, took to the streets to celebrate his victory. Thousands of people converged in Avenida Paulista in the nation’s capital cheering, holding banners that read Bolsonaro’s “Brazil above everything, God above everyone” and wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Hard to Kill,” as a reference to the near-fatal stabbing he suffered.
Many political commentators believe that Bolsonaro is a threat to the world’s fourth-largest democracy given his hard-right views and penchant for violence. Scott Mainwaring, a a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government who specializes in Brazil told the New York Times, “This is a really radical shift. I can’t think of a more extremist leader in the history of democratic elections in Latin America who has been elected.” The Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, Tom Phillips, commented that Brazil had been a huge part of his life for 20 years and said that “[a]fter spending tonight on Avenida Paulista it devastates me to say this, but: Brazil is in very big trouble indeed.”
Bolsonaro’s election comes against the backdrop of increasing resentment and political disenchantment in Brazil. As in many countries across the world, there has been the revival of a widespread anger at the political elite, with stories of corruption and wrongdoing continuing to break. As well as this, the country’s economy has been in turmoil after a recession and crime is on the rise. Bolsonaro promised to crack down on crime, pledging to increase gun ownership and allowing the police “carte blanche” to kill. His campaign also focused on reducing the role of the state in the economy and the possibility of using indigenous lands for development projects.
Some believe part of Bolsonaro’s popularity is due to the scandals that have plagued the left in the country. Former President Luiz Inacio da Silva of the Worker’s Party, a former metalworker who had one the last four presidential elections, was the frontrunner in the presidential race until he was imprisoned in April on a 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering. Da Silva was seen as a voice of the people, particularly the working class, and his conviction prompted a widespread lack of faith in his party and politicians. In contrast, Bolsonaro was seen as upfront and honest due to his seeming willingness to always speak his mind. Matias Spektor, a Fundacao Getulio Vargas University Professor of International Relations said, “The way he’s run his campaign is very clever. He has managed to align himself with the institutions that Brazilians still believe in: religion, family and armed forces.”
What this means for Brazil’s future is uncertain but it adds to the trend of populism sweeping the globe and the rise of far-right leaders, intent on imposing extreme and divisive policies. It shows the growth of a vibrant disillusionment with the political elite that now threatens to damage the very fabric of democracy in many countries.